A seedy office, a hard-nosed gumshoe, and a missing ring.
Where this would lead was not where anyone could have expected.
There was a lot I didn’t know. Well, that was always true in general, but the burden was worse than usual with this case. I’d been hired to find and retrieve a ring. I didn’t know where it was, I didn’t know whether Jim still had it, and I didn’t know where he was, either. I thought I needed to get going on this as Margery Bookman hadn’t seemed the most patient of people.
I had to come up with a plan. I also wanted to talk to Pat again. I’d been with lots of women. I liked women. Mostly, though, I liked them for a while, then got an antsy feeling like when the button a dress shirt collar feels too snug, like it’s going to choke you. That sort of feeling. Shortly thereafter, I’d always found a way to tell the woman I was moving on. Tell her gently but very positively.
I didn’t know Pat well. Only known her for a short time. But there was something about her. Each time I saw her, I felt sort of tingly and my heart sped up a little. For someone I’d known so briefly, this reaction was weird. But she captivated me, and I had a difficult time getting her out of my thoughts. I was curious; would these feelings I was having about her last? She was physically attractive, she was the right size and shape and age, and I certainly liked all that, but what I liked even more was the intelligence she manifested, her quick insights and wit. And of course the humor that lurked in the back of her eyes and came out in snappy comebacks. I had the idea that my collar could stay loose for a long time with this one.
I met her for a late breakfast after I’d seen Cynthia off on the train. Lombardo’s Coffee Shop had Belgian waffles that were crispy on the outside, soft and flaky on the inside and a flavor I’d never found anywhere else. I had two with maple syrup and butter, along with sides of bacon and sausage and home fries, and a bottomless cup of black Kenyan coffee. Pat had unbuttered wheat toast and tea, and kept shaking her head.
“What?” I asked. “A guy’s got to keep his cholesterol up, you know. And do his part for the pig farmers of America. I got an award from their association last year. Consumer of the Year.”
“The cardiac specialists, too, I’d guess.” She laughed. I loved her laugh. Loved the way her eyes got shinier.
She nibbled on her toast, then asked how it had gone with the woman last night. I told her about it, all of it, and about putting her on the train.
“Now I have to decide what to do next. I was hired to recover a ring. I suppose I should concentrate on that. I keep thinking about this new girl Jim’s breaking in, though. Is this something the girl is OK with, or is it being forced on her? Does she want to be with him? Or is she basically his prisoner? I’ve taken Jim’s source of income away from him by retiring Cynthia/Doris and left him with just his new girl. He’ll probably put her on the streets sooner than he’d intended, and I hate the idea that she might not want to do what will be required of her. He’ll probably do it tonight. And I’ll be responsible for that.”
Pat was looking at me seriously. No sign of her usual humor. “You like rescuing people, don’t you? You just rescued Cynthia; now you’re thinking about someone you’ve never met, thinking more about her than what you were hired for.”
I yawned. I hadn’t slept that well over the covers, wondering if Cynthia might make a run for it while I was snoozing. “To tell the truth, I didn’t care all that much about Mrs. Bookman when I met her. A little bossy, I thought. I guess I don’t think the world will end if she doesn’t recover her ring. Of course, I won’t get paid, but the world still won’t end. But if a young girl is being turned out against her will, well, that is important, and if I can fix it, I should.”
I ate a bite of waffle, and then a bite of sausage. Then some home fries. I was saving the bacon for later. You have to have some plan for breakfast just like everything else. I thought while I chewed.
“The problem is, I don’t know enough about Jim. Is he a real tough guy like a lot of pimps are? He doesn’t seem that way, other than his eyes. His eyes looked hard to me. So maybe he’s hard, too. Probably he has no problem with using these girls just for the money he makes. Or perhaps he enjoys the power he has over them, too. If he uses them against their will, I want to stop that. If I can do that and get the ring back as well, that would be good.”
“And you’ve got a plan, don’t you?”
“Well… yeah. At least I had one. Now, talking about this new girl, I’m sort of changing my mind. What I had thought was, I’d wait till you were working the night shift, and you could call me when he came in, and I’d go break into his apartment and look for the ring. But thinking about it, I don’t want him turning this new girl out if she doesn’t want that.”
“Aren’t you forgetting something,” Pat asked.
“Well, this girl is new, and Jim started Cynthia out turning tricks when she was new, then changed that to drugging customers once she knew all about how to work with horny men. Wouldn’t he do the same with the new girl? Make her turn tricks for a few weeks, hustling on the curb, which would then probably make her happy to do something else. She’d probably be delighted to drug men instead.
“If that’s what he intends to do with her, then he wouldn’t be coming in here, soliciting johns. Instead, he’d have her out on a street corner, hustling, and he’d be in a car watching, providing backup and security.”
“So it could be quite a time before he’d come in and I could call you, and you said you thought Mrs. Bookman might not wait that long.”
I nodded. “Yeah, I thought of that, and you’re right. He still could have found customers for her by coming here, but she’d turn far fewer tricks a night that way, and in this business, the money’s in the volume. So I think you’re right. I’d considered that, and agree I need a new plan.”
“And do you have one?”
I smiled. “Yeah. A simple one. I’ll sit on his apartment till he comes out with her. He’ll probably drop her off on the sidewalk in the red-light district. I’ll pick her up and find out if she’s happy in her job or would like to seek alternative employment. If she’s happy with the status quo, I’ll leave it alone. If she’d like to be rescued, I’ll do that, instead. And when I’m satisfied and she’s safe, whichever way it goes, I’ll wait till Jim goes out someday soon and burgle his apartment to look for the ring.”
“That does sound simplistic. A lot could go wrong. He could come back before you were done.”
I smiled a smile that didn’t have much humor in it. “Taking care of business on the fly, adjusting to circumstances, is what I do best.”
I was wearing black jeans, a black hoodie, size XXXL, black running shoes, and had my 9mm concealed-carry pistol, a Springfield XD-9 with a 16-round clip. I didn’t carry it except when I thought I’d need it. I had a license for it, and was pretty good with it. For me, it was a weapon of last resort, but if you needed one of those, it was good to have one.
And of course there was a shotgun in my truck.
Jim lived in a modern apartment house located in an affluent section of town. It was a large building of beige bricks and darker brown stucco with a parking facility below ground beneath the structure. When I’d seen that early in the day as I was casing the place, I’d driven around the block to check things out. Luckily, the parking entrance and exit were together, and they were located in front of the building. Had there been two ways out, I’d have had to have a friend come with me later to watch the other one.
The problem these days was lots of cars had tinted windows, and if Jim drove one of those and left his apartment building after dark, I’d have a deuce of a time knowing it was him in the car. I needed to know what kind of car he drove so I could look for that. All I had to go on was a first name and an address. So, I’d gone to a uniform rental place in town and picked up a mailman’s outfit. Then I’d found a leather carrier bag at Goodwill that looked something like a mailman would use, stuffed some envelopes in it, and headed back.
The front door into the apartment complex had been locked, as expected. I’d waited till no one was on the sidewalk, then used my battery-operated lock pick and was inside in ten seconds flat. This was a lot better than the old days when I had to wait for someone coming in or going out to hold the door for me.
I’d gone to the row of mailboxes in the unmanned lobby. There were twenty boxes, each with a name tag on it. A quick scan had showed a James Montgomery and a J. Boule. I could assume the Boule person was a woman, but I’d got what I wanted: the last names. I’d turned around and left.
Back in my office, I’d called Frank Felini and asked him to run the names, then give me the makes and plates of cars of both the possibilities.
“What do you think this is, the Traveler’s Aid Society?”
“No, they give free maps, and I don’t need one of those. Just some intel.”
“It’ll cost you.”
“OK.” So now I owed him a six-pack.
J. Boule was Janice. James Montgomery drove a Lexus sedan with a personalized plate: EZmony. Crude, I thought. And stupid. Too easy for someone to remember.
I found a parking spot across the street and half a block back from the underground parking entrance/exit. I arrived at six PM and had to circle the block a few times before the parking space opened up. That was why I’d chosen six. I figured if they went out, it wouldn’t be at least till 7. Most johns aren’t looking for action during the dinner hour.
I settled back in my seat and got as comfortable as I could. When you’re 6’ 4”, in shoes, that isn’t so easy. I was driving a nondescript dark blue Camry, just about the most common car on the road. Nothing about it to attract anyone’s notice. I’d had the driver’s seat remounted four inches back from where it usually was. I spent a lot of time just sitting and watching. Detective work isn’t what it looks like on TV.
Cars came and went from the underground garage. None of them were Lexuses. Or was it Lexi? No, probably Lexuses.
At 7:40, a dark silver Lexus sedan came out of the garage and turned toward me. I looked away as he passed, then quickly turned to catch the plate. It was him. I let him get almost a block ahead before pulling out, making a uey and following. I was far enough away that it was difficult to see, but a head was sticking up over his seat back. I couldn’t see anything in the other seat, but some people are short enough not to be seen over tall seatbacks. Of course, he could have been alone.
He drove just at the speed limit. No reason for a cop to stop him. No way for the girl to tell the cop she was being forced into prostitution. Or to offer him a blowjob to defray the ticket.
It was just past twilight, dark enough to need headlights, which I liked because it made it harder to tell my car, following behind him, from any other. I didn’t think he had a clue that he was being followed. He wasn’t using any deceptive tactics, not varying speeds, not jumping lights just after they’d changed from yellow to red. I was staying several cars behind him.
We drove through the middle of town, and he turned and headed for the seamier section. The buildings became progressively shabbier, and the streets and sidewalks more littered.
He slowed way down and turned onto a side street. I cut my lights and coasted up to the corner. He’d parked about 100 yards down from the corner. There wasn’t a working streetlight here and the street was dark. I could vaguely make out a few people on the sidewalk, mostly huddled back against the buildings.
As I watched, a car rounded the corner and drove slowly down the street. Its headlights played over several young women who stepped to the curb as the car advanced. The car passed three of them, then stopped. My eyes had adjusted to the darkness by now, and I saw a girl step up to the window and wait, probably for the glass to be rolled down. Then I saw her poking her head into the car, and I assumed business was being discussed. She finally pulled her head back out and opened the door. She got in the car, and it pulled out from the curb and drove away.
Jim’s car was a bit further along. The lights were off, and I didn’t know if it was idling or the engine was off. I sat and watched it, and eventually I saw the passenger-side door open, and someone get out. It was too dark to see, other than whoever it was was short.
The person looked in the open window and spoke, or listened, then stepped back, and the car slowly moved off down the street.
That was my signal. I quickly turned on my lights and then drove slowly down the street. Jim turned the corner in front of him and was out of sight. I stopped where he’d been and lowered the window.
“Get in,” I said.
She was standing back away from the car, and it was too dark for me to see her. “Get in,” I said again, hoping she’d hurry before Jim got in position to see.
Still no movement, but then, hesitantly, she came toward the car. “Get in,” I said for a third time. “I’ll pay whatever you charge. But I don’t want to sit here, so get in.”
Again a hesitation, and then the door opened, and she got in, and I finally got a good look at her. Except it wasn’t a girl. It was a boy. He was very young and looked scared to death.
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This story is Copyright © 2013 by Cole Parker. The image is Copyright © 2013 by Paco. The story and image cannot be reproduced without express written consent. Codey's World web site has written permission to publish this story. No other rights are granted.
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